We often think of time management as being about to-do lists, blocking off time against interruptions, setting priorities and various organizational techniques. However, the other significant aspect of time management is maintaining energy and focus. Pretty much everyone I talk to, regardless of how accomplished and efficient they may appear, at one point or another says to me that they just don’t use their time as well as they would like because they sometimes procrastinate, get distracted or zone out. While the people I work with tend to have unusually high standards for themselves, the truth is that this is an issue for everyone.
We all have periods when we are highly focused and productive and times when we are less so. David Allen’s iconic book Getting Things Done addresses this by encouraging people to have categories of to-do’s that can be accomplished during those less-focused periods. While this is helpful, the fact remains that for many attorneys almost all billable work (and a fair amount of non-billable) really does require a very high degree of focus and attention. Thus, most of us can still use all the help we can get in order to extend those times where we are most focused and productive. There are many ways to help improve your ability to focus and get yourself back on track when your mind is wandering—everything from taking a walk to eating healthier food. However, today I am going to tell you about something new that I discovered recently and have gotten super excited about. I’ve told dozens of people and so far no one had heard of it previously.
This new tool is called binaural beats and is essentially a way to cheat at meditation. You may be thinking, “sure, lots of people advocate the value of meditation, but really what is the big deal?” It seems that pretty much every neuroscientist out there is a huge advocate of mediation because the scientific evidence supporting the practice is just so compelling. It makes us more focused, more motivated, reduces anxiety, and increases our resilience in the face of setbacks. Basically, it is a way of rewiring your brain to make it even better. Here is a paper from the International Journal of Brain and Cognitive Sciences that reviews numerous other studies that look different ways meditation actually changes the physical composition of the brain.
Who wouldn’t want to be more relaxed, focused and resilient? Regardless of whether you are leading a law firm, looking for a job or developing business, all these qualities help you be more effective, more efficient and happier. It is basically a miracle drug, but without side effects of actual drugs. The downside, of course, is that it does take time and most people find meditation to be challenging. Our “monkey minds” may seem to get the better of us. Even those who have been serious meditators for years often have trouble doing it “right”. The reason I am so enthusiastic about binaural beats is that it makes meditation a lot easier. All you have to do is listen to a certain type of audio while attempting to meditate and it helps bring your brain waves into the state created by meditation.
This is a description of binaural beats from Wikipedia:
A binaural beat is an auditory illusion perceived when two different pure-tone sine waves, both with frequencies lower than 1500 Hz, with less than a 40 Hz difference between them, are presented to a listener dichotically, that is one through each ear. For example, if a 530 Hz pure tone is presented to a subject's right ear, while a 520 Hz pure tone is presented to the subject's left ear, the listener will perceive the auditory illusion of a third tone, in addition to the two pure-tones presented to each ear. The third sound is called a binaural beat, and in this example would have a perceived pitch correlating to a frequency of 10 Hz, that being the difference between the 530 Hz and 520 Hz pure tones presented to each ear.
The brain aligns itself with this third tone through brainwave entrainment. For more information on the scientific theory, and evidence see here and here. (I should add that I don’t have any affiliation with any of the entities that I am citing or any related company. I'm just always looking for ways to improve well-being for myself and my clients.)
In addition to using binaural beats to facilitate effective meditation, you can also use it to encourage sleep, concentration or other states (it just depends on the frequency being created, 4 Hz, 10 Hz, 20 Hz, etc.) Caveat: If you are pregnant or prone to seizures, binaural beats are not recommended; but other than that, it appears to be safe for adults.
I know that simply finding the time for meditation is a huge issue for people. If you are in the “I don’t even have time to exercise” camp, by all means, sort that out first. Exercise is without a doubt the best thing that a person can do for his or her physical and mental health (barring extenuating circumstances). However, when you are sitting at your desk avoiding your work, aimlessly checking social media, or reading the same paragraph five times, meditation (with or without the aid of binaural beats) is something you could do to get back on track. You could take ten minutes to calm or focus your mind and then get back to work and be more productive. Also, for those who already have a healthy lifestyle but are looking for another tool to help get their mental and emotional health to the next level, this is something to try.
This is my own experience: When my friend told me about binaural beats I did some Google research and found a site that provided a list of best binaural beats audios. So I went ahead and bought one for $7.97, which certainly seemed to be an incredible bargain, given all the promised benefits. I lay down and listened to it while trying to focus on my breath. That first time it felt like my mind was going in circles, bouncing back and forth between the two ears. It may have been my imagination, but it felt like my mind was trying to reconcile the two different tones. Ever since then, though, it has been normal, just like listening to any other audio using headphones. I have tried one that facilitates meditation and the one that facilitates sleep, both of which seem to work well. Even those times when I’m stressed, can’t stop thinking about all of my to-dos, and I never get into what I would think of as a meditative state, when I get back to work I’m still in a more focused state of mind than when I started. It’s not like it hijacks your brain or anything (nothing so amazing or terrifying), it just seems to give it a nudge in the right direction. But that nudge can be very helpful. I have since recommended this to a couple clients who have tried it and who also found it valuable.
I fully recognize that this is a little odd (and well outside the realm of my usual blog content) but not that long ago all kinds of wellness modalities that are now mainstream---such as acupuncture and even yoga---were viewed with intense skepticism. So, I just figured I’d share the information. If you do try it (or if you already use binaural beats) I would love to hear about your experiences.
Wishing you happy, focused mental states.